Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have made the US women’s basketball team for the 5th consecutive Olympics. They have won gold medals at their previous 4 Olympics, and the US women are favored to repeat as Olympic Champions for the 7th straight Games. Where does that put the US women and Ms. Bird and Ms. Taurasi historically?
If the USA women win the title in Tokyo, Bird and Taurasi will win their 5th consecutive gold medal in basketball. Five gold medals would move them to =13th on the list of gold medal winners among Olympic women. The list is led by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, who won 9 gold medals in 1956-64. Three women – Marit Bjørgen of Norway in cross-country skiing, Birgit Fischer-Schmidt of Germany/East Germany in sprint canoeing, and Jenny Thompson, an American swimmer – have won 8 gold medals, followed by Czechoslovakian gymnast Věra Čáslavská with 7.
But if successful, Bird and Taurasi will have won 5 gold medals in 5 consecutive Olympics, a feat surpassed among women only by Valentina Vezzali of Italy in fencing, who won 6 gold medals in 5 consecutive Olympics. Bird and Taurasi would become the only Olympians, women or men, to win 5 gold medals in team sports. They currently share the record of 4 with three other American women basketballers, Lisa Leslie, Theresa Edwards, and Tamika Catchings; and with three Canadian ice hockey players – Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, and Caroline Ouellette.
Among men and women, Bird and Taurasi would also join Aladár Gerevich, a Hungarian fencer who won 7 golds in 6 consecutive Olympics; Pál Kovács, another Hungarian fencer with 6 golds at 5 consecutive Olympics; and Steven Redgrave, a British rower who won 5 golds at 5 straight Olympics.
As to the USA women’s team, if they take their 7th consecutive gold medal, they would also reach Everest-like air in basketball and Olympic team sports. A 7th gold would match the Olympic best for team sports set by the USA men in basketball from 1936 to 1968. Besides the USA hoopsters, India also won 6 consecutive Olympic titles in a team sport – hockey (field) – from 1928-56; and in ice hockey both Canada and the Soviet Union had 4 gold medal streaks – Canada in 1920-32 by their men, and 2002-14 by their women, and the Soviet men in 1964-76.
The other best streaks in the various team sports on the Olympic Program are as follows: Beach Volleyball (3) – 2004-12 by USA (Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh) (women); Curling – 2006-14 by Canada (men); Handball (3) – 1996-2004 by Denmark (women); Polo (3) – 1900-20 by Great Britain (men); Softball (3) – 1996-2004 by the United States (women); Volleyball (3) – 1992-2000 by Cuba (women); and Water Polo (3) – 1908-20 by Great Britain (men) and 2000-08 by Hungary (men).